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July 16, 2003

Priest shares faith through signing

From: Sauk Valley Newspapers, IL - Jul 16, 2003


DIXON — Monsignor Glenn Nelson has dedicated his life to sharing the Word. It doesn't necessarily involve speaking.

Nelson is in charge of worship services for deaf Catholics in the Diocese of Rockford. He was at the Jack Mabley Developmental Center on Sunday, officiating at a mass for Catholic residents.

"The Catholic church is not just a hearing church," Nelson said. "It's for all people."

It was Nelson's second appearance at Mabley, and according to Steve Caudillo, the activity therapist coordinator at Mabley, it won't be his last. Nelson has committed to masses at Mabley on a quarterly basis. Although the center has a non-denominational service every Saturday, Caudillo believes that the large number of Catholic residents warrant a Catholic service. Of the 114 residents at Mabley, 35 are Catholic.

As Nelson spoke during the 30-minute service, he also signed the message for those who were deaf or hard of hearing. A deaf member of his Rockford congregation accompanied him to Dixon, and as the man read scripture, using sign language, Nelson translated.

"Did you understand what he was saying?" Nelson asked after the service. "You wouldn't have if I wasn't here to interpret. It's the same with a deaf person sitting in church."

NelsoPn first learned sign language as an 18-year-old student at Northern Illinois University. In one of his math classes there was a person using sign language and he became fascinated with it.

"I first learned it as a hobby," Nelson said. "Then I became a teacher and interpreter for the deaf, before eventually moving into the priesthood."

Nelson has been serving deaf Catholics within the diocese for about 10 years. In the beginning, he said, he served one church which had services for the deaf one Sunday a month. Now there are seven churches, including one in Rock Falls, that celebrate mass every Sunday. According to Nelson, the attendance ranges from 10-30 people.

An important factor in his ministry, Nelson said, was the solid support of Thomas Doran, the bishop of Rockford.

It was around Christmas that Nelson first learned of the Mabley Center, which serves adults who have developmental disabilities. He dismissed any difficulties associated with serving deaf people.

"The main challenge is allowing Catholics to celebrate mass," he said.

As Nelson shared his message with the residents, both verbally and with sign language, he received frequent feedback.

"You not only have friends here," he said to the group, "but also in Heaven."

"My grandpa!" one young man in the front row exclaimed.

Nelson smiled and went on signing.

The communion was observed and a final hymn sung.

"Amen. Amen. Amen, amen, amen!"

What the singing lacked in harmony it more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Copyright 2001-2003 Sauk Valley Newspapers